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Palm Beach Town Council approves Four Arts library renovation plan

Posted On: 09-18-2016

By Jan Sjostrom

Daily News Arts Editor

The Town Council unanimously approved The Society of the Four Arts’ plan for renovating the landmarked Gioconda and Joseph King Library, despite the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s objections to a handicapped access ramp at the building’s main entrance.

During an informal review in August, landmarks commissioners criticized the distance the loggia and steps extend to fit the ramp, which hugs the building’s west side north of the entrance. They advised against granting a variance for the staircase, saying it disrupted the look of the original 1938 Maurice Fatio-designed building.

But concerns about complying with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act prodded the council to reject the commission’s recommendation and approve the site plan, special exception and six variances. The design will return to the landmarks commission Oct. 19 for a formal review.

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Council President Michael Pucillo said he sympathizes with the commission’s concerns about changing a prominent part of a landmarked building. But “the applicant made a case that to be ADA compliant you have to do it this way,” he said. “We simply can’t tell someone that they have to go around to the back door.”

Landmarks commissioners proposed retaining the current handicapped entrance off the gardens on the building’s east side. But that’s a long hike from the Four Arts’ handicapped parking on the building’s north side.

“People don’t go to the back entrance,” said attorney Harvey Oyer, who represents the Four Arts. “They think they can negotiate the stairs and they can’t so they fall.”

As many as half the library’s patrons have impaired mobility, said Rachel Schipper, director of libraries.

Oyer told the council that ADA regulations bar governmental bodies from providing unequal access to public buildings for people with disabilities.

The Four Arts’ King and children’s libraries serve as the town’s libraries. The libraries received $315,777 this budget year from the town for their support.

“When you invite the public in the front door and tell persons with disabilities to go around the back, it’s violating the spirit of the ADA,” Oyer said.

Relying on the east entrance could expose the town and the Four Arts to lawsuits, he said.

The landmarks commission also suggested installing an elevator with outdoor access as an alternative to the ramp. That isn’t practical because an elevator would be prone to flooding and require an air-conditioned vestibule on the street side, architect Thomas Kirchhoff said.

Plans call for renovating the original building, demolishing two additions and replacing them with a new addition. Landscaping would conceal the ramp from the street. The design also eliminates the step from the loggia into the building. The Four Arts hopes to begin the $12 million project in May and finish it in 18 months.

 

 

 

Source: Jan Sjostrom, September 18, 2016, Palm Beach Daily News

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